Doctor Strange adds a fascinating new wrinkle into the narrative tapestry that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Bringing magic and mysticism into the world will surely have long-lasting repercussions for the upcoming films of Phase Three, and it very well may be the lynchpin on which the battle against Thanos hinges. Moreover, bringing gifted Oscar-nominated actors like Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Rachel McAdams into what are sure to be recurring roles for several films to come is the very definition of a smart decision for the long-term future of the franchise.
However, as intriguing as director Scott Derrickson’s psychedelic “Marvel meets Inception” aesthetic is, his film still bears some of the hallmarks that have plagued the MCU since Iron Man first hit theaters way back in 2008. We’re not saying that Doctor Strange is a subpar addition to the franchise in any way, as it actually ranks among the best ones to date. Yet, no film is perfect, and it’s our duty as fans of the MCU and superhero cinema in general, to keep the genre driving forward rather than resting on cliche and subpar storytelling techniques. Here are some of the problems with Doctor Strange that we need to address.
1. Another underdeveloped villain
One of the biggest complaints about the MCU from critics and fans alike has been its reliance on superficial, power-mad, or uninteresting villains to oppose the charismatic, fully fleshed-out heroes. To date, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki stands as the only memorable villain to emerge from the films. Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius in Doctor Strange is yet another flat villain who appears to only be interested in achieving greater power than those around him.
Of course, the film isn’t really too concerned with his story, but had we cared more about his motivations, imagine how much more satisfying his defeat would have been. Ditto for Dormammu, who at least could receive more screen time in future installments. Mikkelsen deserved better than he got here.
2. He’s just a magical Iron Man
So a rich, arrogant narcissist finds himself injured in a catastrophic situation and thrust into a downward spiral that ultimately culminates in a revelation regarding his new purpose in life. Sound familiar? That’s because both Iron Man and Doctor Strange follow starkly (pun intended) similar story templates. It’s a classic archetype hero’s journey-style narrative, but the fact that — aside from the integral employment of technology and magic, respectively — Tony Stark and Stephen Strange’s arcs to becoming heroes so closely resemble each other makes the latter feel more than a little formulaic.
At least now that the origin is covered, the Doctor Strange sequel will be able to venture into more creative territory. Unless we wind up with another Iron Man 2, that is.
3. A wasted role for Rachel McAdams
When Rachel McAdams was cast in Doctor Strange after years of flirting with a role in the MCU, fans of the popular actress — who earned an Oscar nomination earlier this year for her supporting turn in Spotlight — assumed that she would have a juicy part in the film. Perhaps she could even rival characters like Black Widow and Peggy Carter in the franchise’s pantheon of headstrong women.
Alas, McAdams is saddled with a glorified “girlfriend” role as the colleague and ex-lover of Strange who always hoped he would see the goodness inside himself. It’s a fairly thankless role, though McAdams does what she can with it. Here’s hoping Christine Palmer becomes far more interesting in the inevitable sequel.
4. Muddled time travel rules
Whenever a film aims to establish an imaginative new magical world, there are bound to be challenges involved in setting up the rules of whatever supernatural or mystical elements wind up playing integral roles in the plot. Though Doctor Strange largely succeeds in grounding its array of magic and relics, its use of time travel — which plays a pivotal role in the third act — is a bit too muddled to effectively work as a major plot point. Something involving time loops and the Eye of Agamotto? Granted, the Infinity Stones have always been shrouded in incomprehensible amounts of power, but considering how strong the rest of the film’s mythos is, it’s a bit of a bummer that its time travel isn’t up to snuff.
Follow Robert Yaniz Jr. on Twitter @CrookedTable
Check out Entertainment Cheat Sheet on Facebook!